Analysis and Interpretation of A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, is one of the most experimental, original, and controversial novels of the twentieth century. It is both a compelling work of literature and an in-depth study in linguistics. The novel is a satirical, frightening science fiction piece, not unlike others of this century such as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. However, the conflicts and resolutions in A Clockwork Orange are more philosophical than social, and its message is far more urgent.
A Clockwork Orange is made up of three parts containing 21 chapters, 21 being the official age of human maturity. It is a stream-of-consciousness novel about, most fundamentally, the freedom of people to choose. It asks readers if personal freedom is a justifiable sacrifice for comfort and social stability. This theme umbrellas many others, including the struggle between the governors and the governed and the age-old struggle between good and evil. A Clockwork Orange also incorporates the themes of youth versus old age and illusion versus reality.
Burgess, both a writer and an established linguist, uses A Clockwork Orange as a vessel for some very mature exploration of languages and literary play-things. Burgess fuses together many different languages in A Clockwork Orange to create Nadsat, the language of the youth. Nadsat is made up mainly of Russian, child speak, and invented and British slang, but it also utilizes Malay, German, French, Arabic, and Gypsy. The word Nadsat comes from the Russian word nadsat, a suffix for the numbers 11 through 19--the teenage numbers (Lund). The title A Clockwork Orange is derived from several sources. Used in old London slang, one might say someone is "as queer as a clockwork orange" (Burgess, "Resucked" x). In Nadsat, "orange" means "man" (which is derived from the Malay word "orang," meaning "man"), so a clockwork orange would be a man moving without pause or thought, as a clockwork (Lund). Burgess says of the title, "I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness" ("Resucked" x). After the state reforms him, the novel's hero and narrator Alex becomes a clockwork orange, a man working as a machine.
Nadsat is the primary language, although not the exclusive one, of A Clockwork Orange. Burgess claims he uses it "to muffle the raw response we expect from pornography." But he also uses it to create a "literary adventure" ("Resucked" x). The use of Nadsat emphasizes many of the struggles involved with A Clockwork Orange's purpose. The struggle between the old and the young--the conservative and the progressive--is made more sensational by the separation of language. Alex is misunderstood by his parents, the police, and the government philosophically, but also literally, widening the gap between him and the "sane" world.